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The King Is Dead: Is Musical Immortality Possible?

Posted on 13 May 2011 by Mylynda Guthrie

-by Clay Riedesel

Elvis Presley, The King of rock ‘n’ roll, is dead. I’m not saying that Elvis fans are extinct. Spend a day in Vegas and you’re bound to run into more Elvis impersonators than hookers. But in this day and age, The King has been glossed over, and I can’t quite figure out why.

According to popular culture music didn’t begin until around 1963. Everybody from my Grandma to high school Freshman will endlessly gush about how The Beatles are the best band ever (usually spouting bullshit the whole time). When I was in high school the majority of the band t-shirts I saw were Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Grateful Dead (the worst were those kids who un-ironically wore Woodstock ‘69 shirts). I can’t tell you how many times I had to resist punching some smug fuck who just discovered his Dad’s old record collection ranting about how rock ‘n’ roll died after 1973, even though they couldn’t grow facial hair yet.

For the unaware, Elvis was sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll incarnate before anyone else. The ultimate rock star, the rebel without a cause, the guy who kick started the teenage angst that fuels the music industry to this day. There’s a deleted scene in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman asks John Travolta if he’s a Beatles man or an Elvis man because those are the only two kinds of people. If you traveled back in time to 1964 and told a passerby that those upstarts who recorded “I Want To Hold Your Hand” would go on to become bigger than The King they would have laughed in your face.

So why is it that Elvis hasn’t stood the test of time? I’m sure among those dusty, fatherly record collections there had to be an Elvis record or two. Why did Elvis Presley get glossed over in favor of Revolver, Dark Side Of The Moon, Led Zeppelin IV, Exile On Main Street, or Are You Experienced?

More importantly, when my generation grows old and has children and they grow up to thumb through our record collections, which ones will they pick? Will they find Funeral and Is This It as exciting as we did in 2004? Will Tim Kasher be their indie messiah like he was to us? Or will they go straight for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Who’s Next?

While Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Kanye West, and Ke$ha may be dominating the Billboard Top 100 now, all us smug indie hipsters laugh and talk about how obscure they’ll be in ten years. How can we be so sure? The King of rock ‘n’ roll is dead. Who’s to say the graduating high school class of 2030 won’t endlessly spout bullshit about The Jonas Brothers musical legacy?

That begs the question, as an artist, should you appeal to the pop sensibilities of the current year so you can earn your place in the history books, or should you toil away in obscurity? Because even if you become the biggest band in the world, everyone will forget you in a decade or two.

If music is supposed to bring humanity closer why does it seem to be yet another thing that divides us? What separates a rapper, a classically trained pianist, and a punk rocker? Race? Social class? Intelligence? Technicality? They’re all just playing variations on the same theme that’s been around forever, right?

Maybe the difference is just something we invented. Maybe it’s because we can’t accept how insignificant we really are. Maybe we haven’t evolved out of our tribal instincts just yet. Maybe we never will. Maybe it’s a good thing that The King has been reduced to Vegas imitators and a featured night on American Idol.

We all want to be the king of the world, the richest, the strongest, the prettiest, the smartest. Doesn’t our fortune cookie remind us that it’s about the journey, not the destination? I think we’re all discovering what Elvis knew in 1973. After you become The King you only have two options: fight to stay on top, or get knocked off your throne.

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